Wednesday, March 4, 2015

[DC005] Azuma Vs. Allison: Polymorphous Perversity

Previous: [004] Azuma vs. Okada: Defining Otaku 
            Turning now to a western scholar, Anne Allison's Millenial Monsters does not focus on the otaku industry in particular but rather on “Japanese toys and the global imagination” in general. While her work focuses more on child consumers than otaku, the familiar theme of the breakdown of Grand Narratives emerges once again.
            Allison begins her work by looking at Japanese toys in the era of reconstruction (1945-1960). While Japan had a flourishing toy industry before World War II, wartime necessity ended production. With the end of the war, Japanese toy makers resumed production, with the toys being approved for export to the United States in 1947 (38). Allison gives the example of the Kosuga jeep, modeled after U.S. military vehicles and constructed from recycled ration cans as a notable example from this era.
            In addition to toys, Allison also presents some examples of important media franchises from this era such as Godzilla and Tetsuwan Atomu. Godzilla in particular is discussed by Azuma and Okada as important to First Generation otaku, although Allison focuses more on its overall social impact. She describes the movie monster as being “scarred yet empowered by a particular historical event-a nuclear blast that disturbs his home but also rewires him as an atomic cyborg...Out of the scars of war, Japan was to rebuild itself by becoming embedded, like Gojira, with new technologies that would forever alter national identity, state policies, and subjectivity” (46). The film spoke to the social Grand Narrative concerns of First Generation otaku in a way that few other media properties could rival.
            After discussing the era of reconstruction, Millennial Monsters jumps forward to the millennial era. While Allison does occasionally reference media properties or toys from the 1960-1980s period, for the most part she skips over Azuma's Era of Fiction in favor of the 1990s-early 2000s.  
            But the picture she paints of millennial Japan is strikingly similar to Azuma's Era of Animalization. Japanese society is “fragmented” and “detached”; the social mantra of “one family, one TV” has become “one person, one TV” (70). Alienation extends even to how people commute. Using the train system “becomes an experience of liminality when travelers are betwixt and between destinations,” as travelers move from physical location to physical location while also moving from social identity to social identity” (71).
            The key words for Allison are atomism and mobility,  “the effect, in part, of global capitalism with its flows of images, finance, ideas, people, and goods across geographic borders and of New Age technologies that enable high-speed travel, global communication, and virtual reality (leading to the compression, as well as fictionalization, of time and space)” (72). This atomism and mobility leads to a state which Allison describes as “polymorphous perversity,” a “continual change and stretching of desire across ever new zones/bodies/products” (277). 
            Just as travelers move between physical locations and social identities on the train, so consumers move across brands, products, and consumer identities by the action of consumption. This continual breaking down and reassembly of identity bears a distinct similarity to the breaking down and reassembly of Database elements. Consumers break down and reassemble their own identities in the same manner that moe characters are broken down and reassembled into new narratives. 
            Consumption is a form of identity-making, in which the consumer assembles an identity not from a core sense of self based in a Grand Social Narrative, but in the continual change of new products, new affective alliances, and new selves. “Whether a Kitty-chan key chain, Doraemon cell phone strap, or Pikachu backpack, these commodity spirits are 'shadow families': constant and reliable companions that are soothing in post-industrial times of nomadicism, orphanism, and stress...'Parents die, but characters remain forever'” (91).
            It is easy to overlook this part of Database Consumption in favor of more sensational items such as cat ears and maid cafes, but the essential fact remains that it is not just narrative goods that are subject to databasification. It is consumers themselves. Postmodern consumers do not crave Grand Narratives for the simple reason that Grand Narratives are no longer part of their lives. 
           Unlike the transitional Hybrid consumers, the memory of Grand Narratives is no longer comforting because post-modern consumers have never experienced Grand Narratives as a part of their lives. Living in a world of polymorphous perversity, of constant change and reassignment of identity, post-modern consumers are simply applying the logic of their day-to-day lives to fictional characters.
            And it is interesting to note that these patterns emerge even when we look outside of the otaku subculture. It confirms something of Azuma’s thesis; the Database model is not just how otaku perform cultural consumption, but rather the new norm. It is now normal to find meaning in emotional connections with virtual entities. These emotional networks become networks of meaning that can transmit information and redefine one’s own personal identity.

Next: [DC006] Azuma vs. Lukács: Affective Elements in Trendy Dramas

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